Normally I don’t concoct a blog of quarterfinal predictions of a major football tournament if it has a Round of 16. Normally I predict the winners of the Round of 16 matches, then make quarterfinal predictions based on my picks of Round of 16 winners and leave it at that. However those that read my blog of my Round of 16 guesses are undoubtedly laughing at how I only got three right. That explains my rewritten predictions for the quarterfinals. I feel they deserve a redo. So here goes my predictions:
Switzerland vs. Spain – Here is the big irony. Switzerland beat out reigning World Cup holders France on penalty kicks to qualify, and Spain beat out World Cup 2018 finalists Croatia in added extra time to qualify! Additional irony is both teams here had Round of 16 matches that ended with 3-3 after regulation time! Interesting!
This is Switzerland’s first-ever win of a knockout game at a Euro ever, and their first in a major tournament since the 1938 World Cup. For Spain, they’re in familiar territory as they’ve won three Euros and a World Cup in the past. Also in the 22 times the two countries played each other, Switzerland has only won once. Switzerland could come alive in soring prowess like they did against France, but I will predict Spain to win here.
Belgium vs. Italy – Two different teams. One is the result of years of teamwork and perfecting that has taken them to the rank of #1 in FIFA’s World rankings. The other is a fresh team with a history of a legacy that’s making a comeback after failing to qualify for the most recent World Cup. Both teams have one thing in common. They both all have straight wins in this Euro tournament.
This is the one quarterfinal lineup I predicted correctly! Hard to choose. The goal scored by Austrian Sasa Kalajdzic was the first goal Italy conceded not just in Euro 2020 but since their match against the Netherlands in October! Belgium only conceded one goal in Euro 2020 in their group game against Denmark. It’s tough to pick a winner in a quarterfinal of two teams with straight wins in this Euro. I know Italy has beaten Belgium more often in head-to-head matches but I pick Belgium because they are the powerhouse of the moment and this Italian team is a rising power.
Czech Republic vs. Denmark – Another quarterfinal of teams that surprised in their Round of 16 match. Most people would have touted the Netherlands over the Czech Republic. However the Czechs delivered a surprise win of two goals. Also many would have predicted Wales to beat Denmark as they have the more lauded players. Denmark surprised them with four goals!
It’s interesting in these past two games, Denmark scored four goals each game. Their group match against Russia was do or die for them to qualify and it became a case where the Danish Dynamite finally exploded! The Czechs are also a team that appear to be showing their best traits in only their most recent games. For this match, I will predict Denmark because they’re best at pulling surprises. Also if this is a possible draw, which is quite likely with the head-to-head record, I think the Danes will take it in penalty kicks.
England vs. Ukraine – Tuesday was a case where the eventual winners were not the favorites going into their Round of 16 matches. England has been known in recent decades of losing to Germany. How easy we forgot they beat Germany to win the 1966 World Cup. And in the old Wembley Stadium. However it was a case of one of the best English teams ever against a struggling German team and it resulted in a 2-0 win! And in the new Wembley Stadium. Their first win of a knockout game since Euro 1996, which England hosted! And current coach Garreth Southgate was a player for the team back then!
For Ukraine, Sweden had the bigger expectations to win considering they topped their group with two wins and a draw, while Ukraine squeaked in with just a win and two losses. Anything can happen in a match. The game drew 1-1 after regulation and then in the stoppage time of added extra time, Ukraine’s Artem Dovbyk scored the winning goal!
England have not yet conceded a goal during the Euro 2020 tournament. Ukraine have lost games during Euro 2020, but have also delivered some surprise moments. In football, anything can happen. England have won four of the seven head-to-head matches while Ukraine has only won once. I will have to go with England on this. Even though they won’t be in their home country for this quarterfinal, it won’t rob them of their luck.
And there you have it. My revised predictions of the Euro 2020 quarterfinals. Interesting that the quarterfinals is the last round that will have the teams play in alternating cities and countries. The semis and finals will all be held in Wembley. Stay tuned for some exciting play!
In the middle of May 2021, the Eurovision Song Contest took place while the COVID pandemic was still happening. In addition, it allowed seating capacity for thousands of spectators. One would consider this to be a very dangerous move as the world is trying to recover from a world wide pandemic. Few know that this is an event to test whether it’s possible to hold a concert during a pandemic.
EUROVISION 2020 CANCELLED
2020 started like any other year. If there was COVID happening, it was half a world away and showed no real signs of crossing any borders. The Rotterdam Ahoy arena looked like it had plans to be made ready to stage the Eurovision 2020 while national TV networks were getting their performers and songs ready, whether by internal selection or by hosting national finals. Then the pandemic crossed borders. The news got more frightening every day as cases were starting to crop up from country to country. Sports events like the PGA golf series, MLB and NFL football had to cancel their seasons, the Olympics had to postpone to the following year. Then in mid-March Eurovision 2020 had to cancel because of the pandemic. That was just after all 41 competing nations had already submitted their entries and songs.
With no Song Contest happening and it being hugely complicated, if not impossible, for people to meet up, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) decided to have all the entered songs recognized for the participation. There would still be a set of Eurovision shows during the days the Song Contest was originally intended to take place. The Tuesday and the Thursday which were originally supposed to have the semi-finals contested had the Eurovision Song Celebration which paid tribute to the songs and performers of that year and during what was to be their respective semi-final performance. Even before the Song Celebration, the Eurovision Youtube channel had the artists of 2020 perform ‘home concerts’ to keep people’s spirits up.
On the Saturday that was to have the Grand Final held, May 16, 2020, there was Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light. It was a two-hour show which paid tribute to the 41 songs and performers who were to be participating that year. A piece of the video of their song was played followed by a message of well-wishes during this pandemic from the respective entered act remotely from their home country. The show was held with a central location of Studio 21 in Hilversum instead of an arena. Past Eurovision entries gave their wishes to all during this time. There were additional performances from past Eurovision entries singing past Eurovision songs with encouraging messages like ‘Ein Bisschen Frieden,’ ‘Molitva,’ and ‘What’s Another Year.‘ Italian entry Diodato performed ‘Volare‘ live from Milan as well as showcased his song ‘Fai Rumore‘ from an empty arena in Verona. Singers of the two most recent winning songs, Israel’s Netta and the Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence, performed original songs about the frustration of loneliness one receives during the time we all have to isolate ourselves to prevent contagion. Israel’s Gali Atari performed her 1979 winning song ‘Hallelujah‘ with Dutch Junior Eurovision contestants and Junior Songfestival entries from past years. It was done as a Zoom-style ensemble. The show ended with all the 41 contestants singing a piece of the 1997 winning song ‘Love Shine A Light‘ with the song ending with all of them singing together as a Zoom-style choir with Katrina Leskanich, formerly of Katrina and the Waves, to sing the last part.
There were also two noteworthy announcements that happened during the show. The first announcement came during the part when they were with the 2019 Junior Eurovision winner Viki Gabor from Poland. From her home in Poland, she announced that the Junior Eurovision Song Contest will be taking place in Warsaw on November 29, 2020. The second announcement came from the hosts of Europe Shine A Light. It was announced that the Eurovision Song Contest will be taking place in May 2021 in Rotterdam.
CONSIDERING OPTIONS FOR EUROVISION 2021
The announcements of a Junior Eurovision in six months time and a Eurovision in a year’s time seemed like far-fetched things at the time. Nobody knew what the pandemic would be like over time. Rates were increasing at frightening rates, people were still in lockdowns and a vaccine of any kind had not been discovered. Nevertheless it was something still worth pursuing. Twelve months since the ill-fated 2020 Contest is enough time for the pandemic to either subside or for preventative measures like vaccinations to be in effect. Countries were already announcing their intention to compete in 2021. Many even announced their intended 2020 entry would be their performer for 2021. However staging the Contest would be difficult. Possible, but difficult. The EBU had four scenarios to deal with. Each of the scenarios would involve the holding of shows, presence or non-presence of performers, number of spectators, side events and the media press:
Scenario A (normal): This would almost be as if the pandemic never happened. All shows from Ahoy Arena, all the participants in Rotterdam to perform, arena filled to 100% capacity, side events happening throughout Rotterdam the Press Centre would have all 1,500 anticipated press people on site.
Scenario B (1.5 metre social distancing): All shows would be from Ahoy, but only performers who are COVID-negative could perform on stage. Since there would still be no guarantee that the performers would all be COVID-negative on the day of the show, they would all do taped back-up performances that would act as their Contest submission in case. Those whose country was still under lockdown because of travel restrictions could have a taped performance recorded by their network. Arena audience could be anywhere from 0% to 80%, side-events would have to be adapted virtually, and the 1500 press people would be limited to 500 on site and 1000 virtually.
Scenario C (Travel-restrictive): All shows would still be from Ahoy and the arena would still have a capacity of spectators anywhere from 0 to 80%, but participants would all do their performances in their home country. There would still be adapted side performances, but greatly reduced and all 1,500 press people would conduct interview questions virtually.
Scenario D (lockdown): Even with a lockdown mode, there would still be a show from Ahoy arena as there was a show from a studio during 2020’s lockdown in the Netherlands as well as most of Europe. The arena however would only be empty of spectators, consisting only of show and network personnel. There would be no side-events, performers would do their performance in their home country and again all 1,500 press people would conduct interview questions virtually.
JUNIOR EUROVISION 2020: THE FIRST TEST EVENT
Six months in between the intended Eurovision Song Contest 2020 and the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2020 was enough time to get a good sense of how to conduct business and events during the pandemic. The 2020 Eurovision Contest couldn’t be held because everything happened all of a sudden and it was too sudden to plan an alternate for holding a Contest. However the EBU was well-aware statistics and restrictions would change by the time Junior Eurovision, the song contest for performers aged 9 to 14, would come around on November 29, 2020. Some would be for the better, some worse. It was decided that the Junior Eurovision would be held in a situation close to that of Scenario D. I will get to the specifics in the next three paragraphs.
Over time, seven nations that competed at the 2019 JESC such as Australia, Italy, North Macedonia, Ireland and Portugal would not participate because of the COVID situations in their country. Armenia intended to compete, but the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that happened a month before Junior Eurovision was about to start led to their withdrawal. In the end, twelve countries, the lowest since 2013, chose to compete. Germany was one country that would make their Junior Eurovision debut. The Contest organizers were sensitive to the pandemic and announced that the Contest would be restricted to studio performances. They gave two options where the performers could do their performances in Warsaw in the studio of the host network TVP (Telewisja Polska) or in the studio of their respective nation’s network. I believe it was a case of three performances could be done and the best of the three was chosen as the performance for the competition. Only performers from four nations — Poland, Malta, Ukraine and Serbia — were willing to do their performances in Warsaw. Performers form the other eight countries stuck to doing their performances in the studio of their respective nation’s network. Also performances and parts from the Common Song — a song performed by each nation’s singing entries as an ensemble onstage — had to be recorded from whichever studio they performed at beforehand.
Junior Eurovision 2020 was finally held on November 29 inside the TVP headquarters in Warsaw. There was an audience but it was restricted to network organizers and their families. The show began with a performance from last year’s winner Viki Gabor performing her winning song from that year: ‘Superheroes.’ Back-up dancers were present during the performance. For the remainder of the show, the chosen performances from the studios were the competitive performances the juries judged on and the home audiences would vote for online. Instead of the Green Room where the competing performers would normally sit, drink and mingle in, the performers and their assistants were in a special room in their respective network studio. It was also live broadcast from the room where interviews were conducted and their reactions to the scoring would take place.
For the Interval Acts after all the competitive performances were shown and viewers voted, the Common Song was shown as if all the performers gathered together as one. It was actually created through hologram technology. Another hologram performance was the performance of the 2019 Eurovision-winning song ‘Arcade’ by winner Duncan Laurence and Poland’s two Junior Eurovision winners Viki Gabor and Roksana Wegiel. Viki and Roksana performed together, but Laurence’s part was done in an NPO Zapp studio in the Netherlands. The winning song — “J’Imagine” by singer Valentina from France — was a song whose submitted performance was taped one month earlier in a France 2 studio in Paris. There was not the usual Winner’s Reprise where the act of the winning song traditionally goes back on stage, accepts the award and gives and encore performance of their winning song. Instead Valentina and her team celebrated in the France 2 studio and a replay of the submitted competitive performance was done instead of the Winner’s Reprise.
EUROVISION 2021 PLANNING
In all honesty, that year’s Junior Eurovision did feel like a constricted event with all the performers limited to taped performances in a studio, hologram performances of most interval acts, and studio rooms instead of a green room. It didn’t have the same look and feel as if the performers were performing in from of a live audience full of excitement or the same celebratory feel of the performers all getting together in the Green Room having their post-performance fun. What it did do is that it showed that a Eurovision contest was possible. It would be very limited but very possible. Also on an optimistic note, that year’s Junior Eurovision’s online voting had the most online votes totalling 4,500,000! That showed the pandemic can’t stop the Eurovision excitement. For the organizers of Eurovision 2021, this Contest served as an example on how to do a Eurovision if it does come down to a Scenario D situation. Of course they would want to do the Contest with a bigger stage, as many performances on that stage as possible, and with a live audience full of excitement. It would be dependent on time and the situation involving the pandemic as they got closer and closer to Contest time. This would be dependent on statistics of numbers of cases, possible other COVID variants and their effects, the potential for vaccines to be distributed, the efficiency of testing, and the latest studies in COVID prevention.
As time passed, it was announced all 41 nations that entered in the 2020 Contest intended to participate in the 2021 Contest. Many nations intended to enter their entry from 2020 into the 2021, but a new song had to be created in order to keep within the rules. Some nations stuck to having their usual national contests to have the performer and song selected, but said their respective 2020 entry can participate without having to audition. As for the pandemic, there would be a lot of changes over time in terms of the pandemic. The statistics would yield differing results, but vaccinations would also begin to take place en masse in the countries and many travel restrictions would be lifted. This would allow for the ability for performers to travel to the Netherlands to perform and even foreign visitors to come. The one thing the vaccinations and eased restrictions did not do over the time is decrease the potential contagion of COVID significantly nor the disease’s effects on those that caught it. The organizers in the end decided to do the Contest via Scenario B. There would be live performances for all six live rehearsals and three live shows, and the Dutch Cabinet approved a live performance one month before the Contest. Concert crowds would be a limited number and there would be no spectators standing on the arena floor level. More details on the concert crowds in the Handling Of Ticket Holders section. Side events would be impacted such as the ‘Turquoise Carpet’ being the only in-person side-event to take place normally, the Opening Ceremony not held, the Eurovision Village to be held only as an online event and the EuroClub cancelled completely.
Safety Measures For Performers
None of the nations from 2020 that intended to compete in 2021 cancelled out because of COVID-related reasons, but two nations did withdraw. Armenia withdrew because of political unrest from after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Belarus withdrew because their entry for this year had a political message, which is against the EBU rules for the Contest, and would not submit a replacement song. Thirty-nine nations did compete in the Contest. Twenty-six of those nations had the act that was intended for the 2020 Contest as their entry for 2021.
The COVID pandemic was just as real of a threat in the performers’ home countries as it was if they were in Rotterdam. The EBU knew this. They were still aiming for live performances for rehearsals, jury performances and live Contest performances. They still wanted to make sure the performers didn’t endanger themselves or others. In addition, not all travel restrictions had been lifted for the participating countries. The EBU gave the entries the obligation to record back-up performances on video for in case they could not perform their song live on stage whether it be the semifinal, final, or even rehearsals because of travel restrictions. Rules for back-up performances were the artists were each given an hour and during that hour, they were allowed to give three performances of their song. At the end of taping, the delegation would decide which one of the three performances they were most satisfied of. The choice would be the entry’s official back-up submission.
There was also the possibility that some performers would test negative while in their home country, but end up testing positive or being a high-risk group any time while they were in Rotterdam. It could happen anytime, whether it be after the first rehearsal, but before the jury performance or even the live performances. Performers had the option to use their best rehearsal performance or even a jury performance, whichever they were happiest with, as their back-up performance for the Contest. There could even be stand-ins for the rehearsals should one test positive and have to sit the rehearsals or performances out. There were times when these regulations for this year’s Contest were very helpful for all thirty-nine to have a performance worthy of submission for the Contest:
Australia was still unter travel restrictions. Montaigne could not travel to Rotterdam to do her performance of her song ‘Technicolor‘ so the chosen back-up performance acted as the entered song. Audiences both in the arena and through television would see the performance on the LED.
Kateryna Pavlenko, lead singer of the Ukrainian band Go_A, reported feeling ill before the performance of their song ‘Shum’ for the second rehearsal just before the first semifinal. Rules were that anyone reporting feeling ill before performing no matter what had to miss because of a precaution. All other band members tested negative for COVID-19. The band continued with their performance as a Dutch singer, Emmie van Stijn, acted as the stand-in. Pavlenko soon after took a COVID test and the results were negative. Pavlenko was able to continue performing for the remainder of the competition. The band was so impressed with van Stijn’s singing and diction of the Ukrainian language, they had her sit with them in the Green Room during the semifinal as a thank-you!
All six members of the Icelandic entry Daði og Gagnamagnið were COVID-negative when they arrived in Rotterdam. Their performance of their song ’10 Years’ went as normal during the first and second rehearsals. However one of the members tested positive for COVID. They had a rule that they would all perform as a band on the Eurovision stage. They opted to miss out from further performances. Their performance from the second rehearsal was their chosen submission for the jury performances and live shows.
2019 winner Duncan Laurence was slated to reprise his winning song ‘Arcade‘ and perform his new song ‘Stars‘ as part of the interval act of the Grand Final. Laurence opened the first semifinal with the song ‘Feel Something,’ but tested positive for COVID shortly after. Duncan had to miss performing live in the Grand Final, but he did deliver a message of well-wishes on the LED screen and pre-recorded performances of ‘Arcade‘ and ‘Stars‘ were used instead.
Handling Of Ticket Holders And Rapid Testing
It was decided by Dutch Parliament in less than three weeks before the start of the Contest that the event would be open to spectators. Organizers set the limit to the number of performances accessible to public audiences to be nine: all jury shows, family shows and live shows of the two semi-finals and Grand Final. The number of spectators per show was set to a limit of 3,500. Now I know a lot of people would be freaking out over live crowds occurring during a pandemic, but there were rules and regulations regarding spectators for the Contest. In fact the Contest was a pilot event event under FieldLab Concerts. Rules included:
High-risk groups as defined by the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (such as those 70 years or older) cannot purchase tickets.
Those attending the events couldn’t just simply purchase tickets. All sold tickets had to be personalized and registered. Meaning only the specific person is allowed to use the ticket. There are to be no ticket exchanges. Part of the personalization includes ticketholders to download the Close app and CoronaCheck app.
Just after purchasing the ticket, the Eurovision Contest Shop will bring ticketholders to a webpage to personalize the tickets. The ticket will be accessible for the Close app.
Ticketholders will need to take COVID tests the day of the ticketed event. Maximum 24 hours before the event’s anticipated end. Showing a card that confirms COVID vaccination is not enough. Appointments for COVID testing would have to be made through the Dutch ‘Testen Voor Toegang’ website which assists in setting appointments for rapid COVID testing throughout the Netherlands. Even attendees coming from other countries will have to be tested in the Netherlands. Test results can be made available as soon as an hour after they’re taken. Tests done through Testen Voor Toegang appointments are the only valid COVID tests for the Contest.
Results of the COVID test will be made available through the CoronaCheck app. Those that test negative are allowed to attend their ticketed event. Those that test positive are not allowed and they do not receive a refund.
All spectators who test negative can’t simply arrive at the Ahoy Arena anytime. In their Close app, they are given an entrance time-slot for them to show up at the entrance to their ticketed event and do their airport-style security check.
At their entrance, they are required to show both their ticket and their negative COVID test result in order to be admitted.
As far as face masks go, attendees are allowed to take off their face masks when they’re inside the actual arena seating. Spectators are allowed to eat and drink inside the arena seating.
Spectators will have to put their face masks back on once they leave the arena seating area. That includes in areas of the Ahoy Arena such as concession lobbies or the washrooms. Arena seating is the only mask-free area for Contest spectators.
Once spectators are outside the Ahoy Arena building, all mask-wearing regulations made by the Dutch government apply.
Also worth taking note is that all spectators had to be in seated areas. In fact the Green Room took up the whole arena floor area outside of the stage to ensure no spectators on floor level and the performers’ own social distancing. This is arguably the first big event with large spectators to be held during the pandemic so it’s obvious strict regulations would be required. Since the Contest has been completed, there has been no news of massive positive tests from spectator attendance. It so far has proven to be an excellent success, if not a flawless success, that a concert can still take place during the latter period of a pandemic and make progress to more back-to-live performances. Even spokespeople throughout the Contest were speaking their delight and approval of the Contest getting back to live performances and celebrative spirits. Also for those who want to know who the winner is, but don’t know, it’s Italy’s glam-rock band Måneskin who won with the song ‘Zitti e Buoni.’
This year’s Eurovision Song Cotest proved that live performances with spectators can happen during a time of a pandemic. Measures in terms of ticket holders and performers had to be strict and within government regulations, but it all turned out to be successful in the end.
The funniest thing about Group D is that Argentina and Nigeria are paired up again! Of the six times Nigeria has qualified for the World Cup, 1998 remains the only time they never had to face Argentina in the group stage! However it was Croatia that was with Argentina in that group stage. So much ridiculous trivia here! Actually one other legitimate piece of trivia is Group D features one of two teams making their World Cup debut. So for more on Group D, here I go:
-Argentina (5)- Argentina is one team at this year’s World Cup with the most accolades. Two World Cups, five World Cup finals appearances, fourteen Copa Americas, and legendary players like Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. La Albiceleste however has garnered a reputation in the last few years of being a team of near-misses. They lost in the finals of the 2014 World Cup and four of the last five Copa America finals. This is especially biting for Lionel Messi. He’s had a career full of feats and achievements. However ever since he became part of the national team since 2005 at the age of 18, a major international trophy has been the one thing he’s never been able to win.
Argentina have been in struggle since the last World Cup. They’ve gone through three coaching changes and almost missed qualifying for the World Cup. It was nothing less than a win needed for their eighteenth-and-last qualifier match against Ecuador to get them in, and they did: 3-1. As for their World Cup chances, they look quite iffy. They have the talent with the likes of Messi, Javier Mascherano (who has more international caps than Messi), Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero. However they lack a strong defense. Their flaws have been exposed in the last two years upon losses to Spain 6-1 and Group D opponents Nigeria 4-2. However Argentina has delivered good wins like 1-0 against Russia, 1-0 against Brazil and 2-0 against Italy. World Cup 2018 is another test for the Argentinian team. Also Russia could be the place where Messi will either become the ‘best ever’ or the ‘best never.’
-Iceland (22)- Iceland is the team that keeps on surprising the world. Two years ago, they became the first team from a country with a population under 1 million to qualify for a European Championships, and they made it to the quarterfinals, beating England in the process! This time they become not only the first team from a country with a population under 1 million to qualify for a World Cup, but the first from a country under 500,000!
Iceland surprised everybody not just by qualifying for the World Cup, but topping their qualifying group in the process. Iceland proved the fire is still there after Euro 2016. However it appears the fire may have faded since the World Cup qualifying. Iceland’s only wins since have been against two Indonesian teams. They’ve since had to endure losses to Mexico, Peru, Norway and the Czech Republic. Chances are Icelandic fire can come back once they start play in Russia.
-Croatia (18)- Croatia is a team that has had a lot of hard luck over the past few years. There is less news copy about the playing prowess of the team and more copy about the team’s fans’ obnoxious behavior. And don’t get me started about the Euro 2016 game against the Czechs! Mind you, Vatreni is a team loaded with talent worth noticing.
The Blazers are coached by Zlatko Dalic who has come off of coaching mostly club teams in Croatia and the Arabian Peninsula. The team boasts of top players like midfielder Luka Modric, striker Mario Mandzukic and defenseman Vedran Corluka. Croatia has done well playing against European teams and even won against Mexico 1-0. However they’ve also lost to Peru 2-0 and Brazil 2-0 just recently. Croatia have what it takes to once again move to the knockout round and hopefully go far. World Cup 2018 could be the place where they’re finally back.
-Nigeria (47)- Nigeria may not be one of the three African teams that have gone as far as the quarterfinals at a World Cup. However the Super Eagles the only African team that has made it past the group stage in three World Cups. That’s a feat in itself along with three Africa Cup of Nations wins and four more Cup finals appearances.
The current team is coached by German Gernot Rohr who has been coaching African teams for the past eight years and features a wealth of talent young and old. Seven of the teams’ players play for teams in the Premier League. The team features forward Ahmed Musa (who plays for CSKA Moscow), midfielder John Obi Mikel and defenseman Elderson Echiejile. Sure, Russia 2018 may become the fifth time out of Nigeria’s six World Cup runs where they have to face Argentina in the group stage, but they have an advantage; they won in a friendly against the Argentines back in November: 4-2. However they’ve had some noticeable losses this year against Morocco 4-0, Serbia 2-0, and England 2-1. However they could all come together in Russia 2018 and go further than they ever had.
Now that I’m done summing up the teams, it’s time for me to predict the two I think will advance to the Round of 16. It’s a tough challenge, especially since all four have noticeable strengths and weaknesses, but I predict it will be Argentina and Nigeria. However don’t be surprised if it ends up the second qualifier is Iceland. Remember they beat Croatia in World Cup qualifying.
These past three reviews, I’ve reviewed two stadiums at once. I’ve already reviewed six out of the twelve so I’ll save my next double-review for Group H as I will review the stadiums staging the finals and semis. Save the best for last, right? So here’s my first solo stadium review for this World Cup:
VOLGOGRAD: Volgograd Arena
Year Opened: 2018
Capacity: 45, 568
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, D, G, H
Volgograd Arena may be one of the stadiums that’s brand-spanking new for Russia 2018, but it’s on familiar ground. The Arena’s ground is on what used to be the ground for Central Stadium which was opened back in 1962. It was the age of the stadium, FIFA demands and the ability to change capacities that led to the new Volgograd Arena. Its original expense was to be 10 billion Russian Rubles, but ended up being 17 billion Rubles, or $275 million US, in the end.
It has a unique shape where it’s shaped like an overhead truncated cone. The large roof, which rests over a cable frame, resembles a bicycle-wheel pattern through steel-wire cables. The stadium will have many features available to fans like navigation and information support, information, a storage room, and audio visual commentary for those with sight impairment. After the World Cup, the stadium is to be the host venue for local team FC Rotor Volgograd and host a fitness centre.
And there you have it again. Another World Cup group review. And another stadium review. More to come in the ten days leading up.
Group C may prove to be one of the groups that’s hardest to predict. Some may appear to be clear favorites or likely to be eliminated at the end, but don’t be so quick to judge. Don’t forget nobody expected Costa Rica to top Group D at the last World Cup. So without further ado, here’s my review of Group C:
-France (7)- Les Bleus has had a reputation of being an all-or-nothing team. France is never short on talent. The 2014 World Cup saw a lot of young French talent on the rise like Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezman. This World Cup’s team promises a big mix of the old and the new. The team is still coached by legend Didier Deschamps and are poised to perform very well, especially after the strength of making it to the finals of Euro 2016. France’s play since Euro 2016 has been consistent with wins against England and the Netherlands, but they have also lost to Sweden 2-1 and Columbia 3-2. 2018 is an opportunity for France to win their second World Cup. It’s a matter of them all being there and delivering.
-Australia (40)- When Australia made it to the Round of 16 at the 2066 World Cup, people were expecting more to come from the Socceroos. However they haven’t done as well as originally hoped. In fact they’re coming back from three straight losses in 2014. Not everything is down for Australia. They did win the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. Their play is still struggling to show. The only win against a team outside of Asia was against Honduras in a World Cup playoff.
Australia is coached by Bert van Marwijk who coached the Netherlands to the World Cup final. The team consists mostly of players from the Premier League and Australia’s A-League. 38 year-old Tim Cahill leads the team in what will be his fourth World Cup. The team has a good mix of young and old. Australia can provide another surprise again.
-Peru (11)- Ten of this year’s teams at this year’s World Cup had to wait longer than four years to return to the World Cup stage. Peru has had the longest wait of all: 36 years to be exact. Things have changed ever since they’ve been coached by Argentine Ricardo Gareca who was part of Argentina’s World Cup-winning team. The team consists of players whom play mostly for teams in North and South America. The players are a good mix of youth and experience with defenseman Alberto Rodriguez leading. Peru may have the most experience playing against South American teams, but they’ve had three wins this year against European teams like Croatia, Iceland and Scotland. Peru could be the surprise of the Cup.
-Denmark (12)- The last time the Danish Dynamite made it to the World Cup was back in 2010. There they didn’t advance past the group stage. Since then, they’re recently acquired Norwegian coach Åge Hareide. The team was able to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and finished in the quarterfinals. They’ve done very well having not lost a game since 2016. They’ve had some notable wins against teams like Ireland and Poland and even drew against Germany last year. Denmark’s current lineup consists of players mostly from the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga. Denmark looks poised to be one of the teams from Group C to advance. Russia will be their big test.
Now my prediction for the two that will advance. It’s a toughie but I believe it will be France and Peru that will advance.
Two more stadiums. Both in focus are at least five years old. Both were also built to host major events before this World Cup.
-KAZAN : Kazan Arena
Year Opened: 2013
World Cup Capacity: 45,379
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, F, H
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 & a quarterfinal
Kazan Arena was first build to host the 2013 World University Games. Kazan Arena has also hosted the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe and the largest LED installed on a football stadium in the World.
After the World Cup, Kazan Arena will be the home venue of team FC Rubin Kazan, replacing the 25,000-seat Central Stadium.
-SOCHI : Fisht Olympic Stadium
Year Opened: 2013
World Cup Capacity: 41,220
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, F, G
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (A1 vs. B2) & A quarterfinal
If you remember the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, you will remember this stadium very well. This is where the opening and closing ceremonies took place. You may also remember the hefty price tag of the Sochi Olympics. This stadium cost $779 million to build!
Names after Mount Fisht, the stadium was originally built to be an enclosed stadium, but has stayed an open-air stadium since 2016 in order to conform with FIFA rules. The stadium complex now serves as a training centre and match venue for the Russia national football team.
And there you have it. The four teams of Group C and two more stadiums. Less than two weeks to go!
The funny thing about World Cup draws is the surprises they end up having. The biggest surprise about Group B is how close the countries are to each other! As in 2014, Spain is in Group B. However their Iberian neighbors Portugal is in the same group! Their very first match of the Cup will be another episode in their Iberian rivalry and the first on the World Cup stage! Then there’s Morocco just underneath Spain. And Iran isn’t too many thousands of miles away. Actually I think Group B is the group with the least geographical separation! Here’s my take on the Group B teams:
-Portugal (4): The 21st century has seen the coming of age of The Navigators. Their biggest breakthrough came at the 2016 Euro where they went from drawing all their games to claiming the Cup in the end. This will prove to be an exciting World Cup as many believe this will be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last chance to try to win the World Cup, as he will be 37 by the time Qatar 2022 comes around.
Portugal is more than just Cristiano Ronaldo. There’s striker Ricardo Quaresma, midfielder Joao Moutimho and star defensemen Pepe and Bruno Alves. Portugal looks consistent leading up to the Cup. They’ve had a good record since their Euro win. However they’ve had some notable losses like 3-0 to The Netherlands back in March and 3-2 against Sweden last year. They’ve also had some noteworthy draws such as 1-1 to the US and 2-2 to Tunisia. Portugal could just be able to come back to action here in Russia.
-Spain (8): Things have been a real struggle for La Roja after the 2014 World Cup. The most notable being ousted in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016. It bit Spain so badly, Vicente del Bosque was sacked as team coach. They now have a new coach: Julen Lopetegui. He comes off of coaching Spain’s youth teams and Portugal’s Porto team. The change of coaching has worked very well. Spain came on top of the World Cup qualifying group. Spain have also not lost a match since Euro 2016 and even had a spectacular 6-1 win against Argentina back in March. However Spain has had some noteworthy draws like a 3-3 draw to Russia and a 1-1 draw to Germany. Much of that is due to Spain’s set of strikers being young and lacking experience.
Leading to Russia 2018, Spain will be led by captain Sergio Ramos; one of four players on the team with more than 100 caps. Spain’s team consists of all but seven players who play for La Liga. Spain also has a lot of strong midfielders in Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, and David Silva. Along with Ramos, Spain has Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba adding to their strong defense. 2018 can be another stellar year for Spain.
-Morocco (42): Nigeria may be most lauded African team but Morocco deserves some credit. They are the first African team to advance past the Group Stage; all the way back in 1986. This will be Morocco’s fourth World Cup and their first in 20 years. They were lackluster in play over the last two decades or they’d just pull a surprise and soon fade away during that time. That has changed since 2016 when they acquired French coach Herve Renard. Renard had coached Zambia to the 2012 African Nations Cup. Ever since Renard helped Morocco qualify for the World Cup, he’s signed with the team until 2022.
Morocco has had an impressive record these past two years. Despite losses like 2-1 to The Netherlands and 1-0 to Finland, they have scored notable wins like 2-1 against Serbia, 2-0 against the Ivory Coast and 3-1 against South Korea. Not too much is expected of Morocco with Spain and Portugal being favorites, but they could pull off an upset in Russia.
-Iran (36): This is Iran’s fifth World Cup. No doubt they’re hoping this will be their first where they make it past the group stage. Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz has been kept on as manager of Iran since 2011. He’s the coach that has coached the most games involving the national team. Most of the team’s players play for Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League and Greece’s Superleague. Iran’s victories in the last while have been mostly to Asian teams. However they have drawn 1-1 against Russia and South Korea sending the message that they are capable of more than what most expect. Russia 2018 could just be their moment.
And there’s my look at the teams of Group B. As for who will advance to the Round of 16, I’m going to go with my best hunches and declare Spain and Portugal. However either Morocco or Iran could pull off a surprise.
Two ore stadiums added to the mix. Both will host four matches, all in the Group Stage. And both with host a Group Stage match for Group B. So without further ado:
-KALININGRAD: Kaliningrad Stadium
Year Opened: 2018
World Cup Capacity: 35,212
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, D, E, G
Kaliningrad Stadium is known for its unique location. It’s in the city of Kaliningrad which is part of the tiny Kaliningrad Oblast: a Russian Oblast bordered by Poland and Lithuania and situated over 400 miles west of the Russian mainland! It’s location at the Baltic Sea explains why Kaliningrad Stadium is also nicknamed Arena Baltika.
This new stadium wasn’t cheap. It came at a cost of € 257 million and had lost its original developer when it filed for bankruptcy in 2014. The stadium is located on Oktyabrsky Island and is expected to reduce its capacity to 25,000 after the World Cup. After the World Cup, the Stadium will serve as the host stadium for team FC Baltika Kaliningrad.
-SARANSK: Mordovia Arena
Year Opened: 2018
World Cup Capacity: 44,442
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, G, H
Like Kaliningrad Stadium, Mordovia Arena will also be practically fresh for the World Cup. However this World Cup Stadium is more about its design. The design is based on the image of the sun, the main symbol of ancient myths and legends of the Mordovian people. The stadium is situated around the Insar River and is part of a big land development for the city of Saransk. Part of the development includes a new residential neighborhood, a new park, and a space for recreation, public festivities and leisure activities.
The stadium has hotels, fan zones and attractions located within walking distance. After the World Cup, the stadium is expected to reduce its capacity after the World Cup to 28,000 and will serve as the host venue for team FC Mordovia Saransk. The stadium will also be turned into the largest sports, cultural and leisure center in Saransk and Mordovia.
So there you have it. Another Group Stage group summary and two more stadiums in the spotlight. More World Cup reviews coming.
It’s a given. Whenever there’s a Euro or a World Cup, I do a rundown of the teams that will be competing. Those of you who remember I did it for the 2014 World Cup, I’m back. As I did for 2014, I will again do a separate blog for each of the eight Group Stage groups. Once again, I will give a preview of the twelve stadiums that will be the stages for this event and save the stadium for the Grand Final for last. Now let’s start with Group A. For the record, my summary of the teams will be done in their drawn World Cup order rather than their FIFA ranking of May 2018. FIFA ranking of that month will appear in brackets.
-Russia (66)- Russia had its glory days on the World Cup scene back during the days of the USSR. Since the USSR dissolved in 1992, Russia has qualified for three World Cups but always ended its trip in the group stage. It’s been a frustration. They went through two top ranked Dutch coaches Guss Hiddink and Dick Advocaat and Italian coach Fabio Capello, but would always come up short. Just before Euro 2016, they went back to a Russian coach, Leonid Slutsky, but again fell out in the group stage. Since Euro 2016, they’ve stuck to having a Russian coach. This time it’s Stanislav Cherchesov whose managed Dynamo Moscow and Legia Warsaw in the past.
The Russian team still remain an enigma. Only three of the team’s players play for teams outside Russia. Their recent game results also come into question. They’ve played six games since the Confederations Cup, but only won one: against South Korea 4-2. They’ve since had to deal with losses to big-name teams like Argentina, Brazil and France. The world Cup draw is made so that the host nation doesn’t have that hard of a time to make it past the group stage. Russia’s chances look comfortable as Uruguay appears to be its only tough rival. How far Russia goes is up for the world to see.
-Saudi Arabia (67)- The Saudi team looked like it was heading to better times after they made it past the Round of 16 at World Cup 1994. However the big reluctance to export players to the bigger European clubs has always proved to be the biggest obstacle. The Saudi team would face an exit at the Group Stage during the next three World Cups.
Russia 2018 marks the first World Cup since 2006 with the presence of the Saudi team. All but three of their team members play for Saudi teams. The other three play for La Liga teams from Spain. As for play, Saudi Arabia does not have a very consistent record for the past year. Their biggest win this past year came through Greece. However they’ve also had to endure losses to Belgium, Iraq and Portugal. However anything’s possible in football and the Saudi’s could surprise in Russia.
-Egypt (46)- This is only the second time Egypt has been to the World Cup. The only other time is in 1990. However Egypt is ready to play well. They’ve hired Argentine coach Hector Cuper to coach the team. The team’s players play for various team in Egypt, Europe and the US. However many consider the heart and soul of the team to be led by 26 year-old Mohamed Salah who as a striker for Liverpool won 2017 CAF footballer of the year. Many see Salah as an emerging great and could boost team Egypt in the future.
Their record leading up to World Cup 2018 is very much in question. Their only wins this past year have come against African teams. Their last win against a team from outside Africa was Bosnia-Hercegovina back in 2014. This year they’ve faced losses to Portugal and Greece. Russia is another proving point for ‘The Pharoahs.’ They may be out in the group stage or they may surprise everyone.
-Uruguay (17)- This is the team from Group A that has the most clout. For a long time, Uruguay was seen as a team that was a blast from the past. Their biggest glory days came with World Cup wins in 1930 and 1950 and Olympic gold medals in 1924 and 1928. However a resurgence of Uruguay on the world scene starting with World Cup 2010 has catapulted the team back to the top of the world elite. It started with Diego Forlan and has now transferred to Luis Suarez. Uruguay’s stint at the 2014 ended in disgrace after Suarez was banned from nine games following a biting incident on an Italian player. And to think Chewy Louie was the player that infamously blocked a potential goal from Ghana at 2010.
Since the incident, Suarez has kept his promise of not ever biting another opponent. He has matured a lot as a player since and serves as Uruguay’s top star. However Uruguay is not just Suarez. The team also boasts another top striker in Edinson Cavani, midfielder Cristian Rodriguez and top defencemen Diego Godin and Maxi Pereira. Uruguay can prove themselves to be a top force to be reckoned with here in Russia.
So there’s my review of the first World Cup group. As for predictions, I’ll just settle for predicting the two countries that will advance past the Group Stage right now, and I predict it will be Russia and Uruguay.
Once again, I get to focus on the various stadia that are hosting the World Cup. I figure the arenas are worth talking about. Russia will have has twelve stadia that will facilitate for the World Cup including two in Moscow. Only three are older than ten years old. All are situated in the European cluster of Russia. Just like Brazil in 2014, Russia all twelve of the stadiums will hold four Group Stage matches but they will be matches for four different groups. Also just like in Brazil 2014, all six of the Group Stage games for each individual group will again be played in six different stadiums, and not all will be that close by. Once again, a lot of traveling around for the 32 teams in a huge cluster of a country. One of which, they will have to cross the border of Lithuania to play in.
It’s confusing, but no less confusing than Brazil 2014. Here I’ll give you my first taste of my Stadium Spotlight of 2018. Note that each stadium I show in my Stadium Spotlight feature will be a stadium that will contest Group Stage matches for each respective group. These two I will focus on will host Group Stage matches in Group A. So without further ado, here are the two stadiums in focus:
-YEKATERINBURG: Central Stadium
Year Opened: 1957
World Cup Capacity: 35,696
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, F, H
Central Stadium is one of only two stadiums at this World Cup that was built in the 20th Century. Though there’s no doubt they’ve had to undergo extensive renovations over the years including preparations for this year’s World Cup. Actually the arena was a stadium for speed skating. The shift to football and other sports have been the focus since the downfall of the USSR.
The stadium will have 12,000 temporary seats for the World Cup. After the World Cup, it will be the host venue for team FC Ural Yekaterinburg. In addition, there are plans to add a fitness centre and a Valeological centre.
-SAMARA: Cosmos Arena
Year Opened: 2018
World Cup Capacity: 42,374
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, E, H
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (E1 vs. F2) & a quarter-final
Cosmos is one of many stadiums built fresh for this World Cup. It came at a cost of $320 million. The building of the stadium was first meant to be built on an island close to the city, but the intended construction of a bridge, and the public’s uproar over its total expense, led it to be built in the north area of the city.
After the World Cup, it will be the host venue of team FC Krylia Sovetov Samara.
And there you go. My first preview of the World Cup teams and stadiums. Seven more groups and ten more stadiums to review before World Cup 2018 starts. Stay tuned for more.
Funny how people refer to ‘Groups Of Death’ to groups packed full of the best talent in the world. Group H consists of four teams that are not considered major threats to the World Cup but any of the two can move to the Round of 16. Also don’t count any of them out as possible challengers for the cup. So for my final group rundown, here’s my take on Group H:
-Belgium (12)- If you thought it was a surprise to see Switzerland among the seded team in FIFA’s World Cup draw, it should have been just a surprising to see Belgium. Even though Belgium was in the FIFA Top 8 at the time, Belgium is a country one would not normally expect to see as a seded team. Their best World Cup finish ever of the eleven previous World Cups they’ve played in was fourth in 1986. The last World Cup they played in was 2002 and they didn’t even qualify for Euro 2012. However that all changed in 2012 when they hired Marc Wilmots as head coach after being assistant coach for three years. Wilmots himself had played for Belgium in four World Cups and even scored five goals in World Cup play. Belgium was placed in possibly the most difficult European qualifying group for 2014 but they played like magic. They won eight games and tied the other two en route to coming first in their group and automatically qualifying with just one game to go. The spirit of the Red Devils was felt again in their homeland as the country greeted them upon their return in big fanfare. Their success helped put them in FIFA’s Top 8 around the time of the draw which led to them classed as one of the seded teams. Their performance in qualifying was so impressive, Wilmots was signed on to be coach for another four more years. However Belgium’s play in friendlies have not been so spectacular as they’ve lost to Romania, Colombia and Japan. They do have impressive wins against the U.S.A. and Sweden and even tied France. Nevertheless their lackluster friendly play has dropped them from the Top 8 and now stand 12th. Nevertheless this is a big boost for country as this will be their first World Cup in 12 years. Half the team play for top European teams like Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid. Whatever the situation, no doubt they’ll send the message that Belgium is back.
-Algeria (25)- Algeria is another team coming to this year’s World Cup hoping for a breakthrough moment. They’ve competed in three World Cups before: in 1982, 1986 and 2010. They have had better luck defining themselves at the Africa Cup of Nations where they’ve made it as far as the semifinals five times and even won back in 1990. However they’re hoping this World Cup to finally progress past the Group Stage. Their squadron is coached by Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic who coached the Ivory Coast at the 2010 World Cup. Top players include Madjid Bougherra, Islam Slimani and Sofianne Feghouli who’s already being called ‘the New Zidane.’ Algeria won their opening group in qualifying for the World Cup. They would then face Burkina Faso for the berth. The first game ended with a 3-2 loss but Algeria came back 1-0 to clinch their trip to Brazil. They’ve also not lost a friendly in the past two years and would include wins against Slovenia and Romania and ties to South Africa and the Ivory Coast. If they play consistently, Algeria could have their best ever World Cup here.
-Russian Federation (18)- Russia is a team that has struggled to prove itself since the breakup of the USSR back in 1991. Back during the days when the USSR did well by advancing past the Group Stage in all but one of their seven World Cup appearances and even finishing fourth in 1966, the majority of Soviet players were Russian. Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Russia has continued to shell out remarkable talents in the years since. However the national team has always fallen short of making a statement of their prowess. They’ve only qualified for two World Cups–1994 and 2002– and only went as far as the Group Stage in both cases, even though Ukrainian-born Oleg Salenko set a World Cup record in 1994 with the most goals in a single World Cup game: five. They did however have a moment of glory by finishing third at Euro 2008. However they come to Brazil looking for more as they will have the task of hosting the next World Cup in 2018. No doubt they want to create an impression here. Although all the players play for Russian League teams with many playing for Dynamo Moscow, their coaching staff is almost all Italians and the head coach is Fabio Capello who has coached AC Milan, Real Madrid, Juventus and England up to 2012. Russia performed well enough in qualifying to win their qualifying group over heavily-favored Portugal. They’ve showed their abilities by scoring wins against Portugal, Slovakia, South Korea and Morocco. They’ve also tied countries like the U.S.A. 2-2, Serbia 1-1 and Brazil 1-1. It’s make or break for the Russian team here in Brazil. They come to play well and learn.
-South Korea (55)- Isn’t it interesting that Group H has two teams named The Red Devils? There’s Belgium, where the Belgians call them les Diables Rouges or de Rode Duivels, and there South Korea who also go by the name the Taegeuk Warriors. South Korea has traditionally been the best team in Asia. None of the other Asian countries here in Brazil have as much of a track record as South Korea who will be playing in their eighth straight World Cup. Their best finish ever was a fourth-place finish in 2002 when they co-hosted with Japan. Much of their prowess has to be with the K-League that was started in 1983 and has really taken off since. However South Korea appears they don’t have the prowess they’re used to showing. They’ve had wins against Greece and Switzerland in the past two years. However they’ve had to endure losses to Brazil, Croatia, the U.S.A., Russia and Mexico. Since qualifying for the World Cup, they’ve changed coaches to Hong Myung-Bo who’s had experience coaching in the MLS. They’re hoping he can make an improvement for the team and he’s already helped Korea move up to 55th from 59th a month ago. It’s quite possible they might prove in Brazil those low FIFA rankings are just bad estimates.
And now my prediction for the two advancers: I predict Belgium and Russia with Algeria the one most likely to upset.
Okay, I’m done reviewing the last World Cup group. Now time to focus on the last two World Cup stadiums. My final Stadium Spotlight focuses on the two stadiums in two of Brazil’s biggest cities. One is a new stadium, the other is old and legendary. On will be hosting the opening ceremonies and opening match. The other will be the stage for deciding the winner of the Cup, just like it did 64 years ago.
-SAO PAULO : Arena de Sao Paulo
Year Opened: 2014
World Cup Capacity: 61,606
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, B, D, H
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (F1 vs. E2) & a semifinal
Sao Paulo’s new stadium came about as Estadio Pacaembu was too small to host World Cup games and was getting too old. Also the much bigger Estadio de Morumbi was judged by FIFA as unsuitable to hold World Cup games. Thus the creation of the Arena de Sao Paulo. However creating the stadium came with difficulties. First, national funding for the stadium was delayed for two years. Secondly, the Arena originally planned to hold 72,000 for World Cup games. Relocation of TV Equipment and VIP seating reduced the capacity to 61,606. Even though the stadium has officially been opened on May 10th, it was noted modifications were still underway two weeks ago and people are still unsure if the stadium has been finished. They better be ready June 12th because they’re hosting the opening ceremonies and first match: Brazil vs. Croatia. After the World Cup, the seating will be reduced to 48,234 and will be managed by the Corinthians football team who will have the stadium renamed Arena Corinthians. The stadium is also a venue for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
-RIO DE JANEIRO : Estadio do Maracana
Year Opened: 1950
World Cup Capacity: 78,838
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, E, F, H
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (C1 vs. D2), a quarterfinal & final for the Cup
If many people view football as a religion, then the Maracana has to be one of its prize temples, especially for Brazilians. This stadium was opened in 1950 to host the World Cup. The final game of that World Cup set a world record that stands today of the largest attendance of a soccer game: official count at 199,854 but actual attendance is estimated around 210,000. Since the World Cup, the Maracana has continued to attract large crowds to games for clubs like Vasco da Gama, Botafogo, Flamengo and Fluminese. The latter two still have the Maracana as their home stadium. However the capacity was greatly reduced in 1992 when an upper stand collapsed, killing three and injuring 50. Remember there was a time when stadiums allowed for both seats and standing area which allowed for such big totals I talked about. The Maracana was converted into an all-seater stadium since the accident. A bit of trivia: The Maracana can never be demolished as it was classified as a national landmark in 1998.
For the 2014 World Cup, major preparations and changes had to take place. The irony being the stadium had already underwent major renovations starting in 2000 just after it celebrated its 50th anniversary and completed in 2007. The original seating bowl that had a two-tier configuration was demolished and made way for the construction of a one-tier seating bowl. New seats in colors of yellow, blue and white form among the green match of the field to create the national colors of Brazil. The renovated Maracana played host to the Confederations Cup last year. After the World Cup, the stadium will return to being the host venue for Flamengo and Fluminese, continue to host major concert and will be the stage during the 2016 Summer Olympics for football games and the opening and closing ceremonies.
And that wraps it up. I’m done predicting World Cup groups and I’m done reviewing World Cup stadiums. All that needs to be done is let the show begin. I’m sure it will be a memorable one.
Group F is one group that has one country almost guaranteed to come out on top. However the second team to move on could be any of the other three. I guess Group F is a ‘Group Of Death’ in that sense. Here’s my rundown of the Group F teams:
-Argentina (7)- Argentina is another country at the World Cup with a legacy. This is their sixteenth World Cup. They’ve made it to the finals four times and won twice. Argentina has always been seen as a real threat in football these past few decades with a well-known aggressive play. They’ve been churning out great after great with Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta, Carlos Teves and most recently Lionel Messi. However they do have their glitches. For starters, they have not made it past the quarterfinals since 1990. With Maradona coaching, it looked like 2010 would be the year they’d break their bad luck. They almost did as they were brilliant in group play and in their Round of 16 match against Mexico but were halted by Germany 4-0. Getting knocked out in the quarterfinals at the 2011 Copa America didn’t help either. However the team made considerable improvement with the addition of Alejandra Sabella as coach. Since then their only losses came to South American teams like Brazil, Venezuela and Uruguay, teams they would eventually beat in another recent game. On top of that, Argentina never lost to a European team under Sabella’s coaching. No doubt they have the talent to win. Many predict them to be finalists in Brazil at least. It’s just a matter of them delivering.
-Bosnia-Hercegovina (25)- It’s very common for an athlete or a sports team to lift the spirits of a troubled nation. Bosnia-Hercegovina is a nation still recovering from its brutal civil war from 1992 to 1995. However at last year’s World Cup qualifying, Bosnia’s team gave the people something to cheer about. Also people on the streets could talk about something other than the war. The team was brilliant in qualifying play winning eight games, drawing one and losing one. They scored 30 goals and only conceded six. You can credit this to the guidance of coach Safet Susic and the play of Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko. They were impressive in World Cup qualifying play and they’ve had varied results in friendly play with wins against Mexico and the Ivory Coast but 2-0 losses to Egypt and Argentina. The World Cup is a chance for Bosnia to grow as a team. They’re the only team in Brazil competing in their first World Cup. They pretty much have nothing to lose and everything else to gain.
-Iran (37)- Iran comes to their fourth World Cup here in Brazil hoping for a breakthrough. They’ve won the Asian Cup three times from 1968 to 1976 but have never been able to advance past the Group Stage at the World Cup in their three previous appearances: 1978, 1998 and 2006. The current team is coached by Carlos Queiroz who managed Portugal at the 2010 World Cup. Top player is Charlton Athletics forward Reza ‘Gucci’ Ghoochannejhad who did most of the scoring in World Cup qualifying. They have been able to show their prowess well by beating South Korea, who is traditionally Asia’s strongest team, twice. Most of their friendly play has been so-so as they’ve drawn three of their four matches, only losing to Guinea 2-1. 2014 looks like a great chance for Iran to have the World Cup breakthrough they’ve been waiting for.
-Nigeria (44)- Nigeria had its best days in the 1990’s when it made it to the Round of 16 in two World Cups. They come to their fifth World Cup hoping to reclaim their greatness despite not having a lot expected upon them. They are the reigning African Cup of Nations holders from 2013. The team is led by Stephen Keshi who was part of Nigeria’s first ever World Cup team back in 1994. The team’s players come from a mix of players from European leagues and Nigeria’s national league. Some of their star players like John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Efe Ambrose play for the top teams like Chelsea and Celtic. Nigeria has performed well in friendly play, losing only to Mali and Ghana in penalty kicks. They’ve also has scoreless draws against Mexico and Greece and 2-2 draws against Scotland and Italy. 2014 could be a comeback for Nigeria.
Now my prediction for the two advancers: they only way I cannot see Argentina from being #1 in this group or failing to advance is if they’re too overconfident, but I highly doubt it. Second advancer will be Iran, though Bosnia-Hercegovina can have a case of beginner’s luck if they play as brilliant in Brazil as they did in qualifying.
-SALVADOR : Arena Fonte Nova
Year Opened: 2013
World Cup Capacity: 48,747
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, E, F, H
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (H1 vs. G2) & a quarterfinal
Salvador was one of those cities that needed a new stadium. However its top reason wasn’t because of the luxury of hosting a World Cup but of a tragic disaster instead. The older Estadio Fonte Nova, built in 1951 and home to football club EC Bahia, was starting to show its wear. Then on November 25, 2007, a section of the stadium’s highest terrace collapsed during a game celebration. Seven people were killed and forty others were injured. The governor of Bahia was fast to act as the next day he closed the stadium and the day after ordered that the stadium be demolished and a new one be created. The stadium seats were all demolished with only the field being kept. A group of architects from Brunswick, Germany who helped redesign Hanover’s old stadium in time for the 2006 World Cup were put in charge of the redesign of the Fonte Nova including turning it from a stadium into an arena with a lightweight roof.
The new stadium was opened in April 2013 and even hosted some games of the Confederations Cup. In the months leading up to the World Cup, the stadium has had problems such as blind spots for some spectators as well as some puddles and excessive dust. In addition, the lightweight rood proved to be too lightweight as a section collapsed May 27, 2013 because of heavy rain. No one was injured. The organizers said they were aware of the problems. Whatever the situation, they had a whole year to get it right in time for the World Cup. The World Cup scene and the months thereafter will determine its effectiveness and functionality.
Not only will the stadium be home for FC Bahia but the surrounding area includes a panoramic restaurant, museum of football, car parks, shops, hotels and a concert hall.
And there you go. Another group and another stadium reviewed. Two more groups and three more stadiums to focus on.
Group C may look like a more relaxed group as compared to groups like Group B, Group D or Group G, but don’t be so quick to dismiss. There have been teams from nowhere that would come to surprise and finish high, if not win. Group C may come with one of those surprisers and it could be any of the four teams. All four have reputations of being ‘sleeping giants’ and it could be right here in Brazil where they finally arrive. Here’s my rundown:
-Colombia (5)- Colombia is one of many great teams who never had the change to deliver well at the World Cup. There was a period in the 90’s when they were one of the best teams in the world but during those three World Cups, they only made it past the Group Stage once and even then only got as far as the Round of 16. It’s a question of what it was: not all being together, political tension at the time, best players sidelined. We’ll never know. But now there’s a new Colombian team picking up where the previous one left off. They’re currently ranked in FIFA’s Top 5 and they’re hoping to deliver this time around. They have the players and the clout. They also have a good coach in Jose Pekerman who often selects players for a specific role rather than their profile. He was successful in coaching Argentina to the quarterfinals in 2006. They’ve even played well in recent games, tying Netherlands 0-0 and beating Belgium 2-0. Colombia can finally arrive on the World Cup scene here in Brazil.
-Greece (10)- This is one team whose prowess over the years has grown considerably. Their first World Cup was in 1994 and they were uninspiring: losing all three of their matches and scoring no goals while conceding ten. Things have really picked up for Greek football since. They were the surprise winners of Euro 2004. They returned to the World Cup and even though they didn’t advance past the Group Stage, they still had the benefit of winning a game: 2-1 against Nigeria. For 2014, they’re a top-ranked team in good hands with Portuguese coach Fernando Santos who has been very successful coaching in both Portugal and Greece. He guided Greece to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 and to a consistent track record since, losing only to Bosnia-Hercegovina and South Korea. This is possibly Greece’s best team ever and there’s no better time than now for them to prove themselves.
-Ivory Coast (21)- At every World Cup since 1986, there’s been at least one African country that advances past the Group Stage. Some have made it as far as the quarterfinals. Many have expected the Ivory Coast–or Cote d’Ivoire– to be that team but ‘The Elephants’ have played below expectations in their two World Cup appearances in 2006 and 2010. Even though they have Didier Drogba, one of the greatest African football players ever, he can’t be a one-man team. Nevertheless the team has been very consistent in recent years. Much from the help of French coach Sabri Lamouchi who has guided the team these past couple of years. They finished second in the African Cup of Nations in 2012 and even tied Belgium 2-2 in a friendly this year. Even at 36, Drogba still looks and plays strong and the team consists of other good talents like Manchester City star Yaya Toure and promising young gun Serge Aurier. This could finally be The Elephants’ year.
-Japan (47)- No other nation has experienced increased growth of football in the last 20 years the way Japan has. It all started with the creation of the J League in 1993 when football really took off and helped Japan qualify for their first World Cup in 1998. They’ve qualified for every World Cup since even co-hosting in 2002 where they made it to the Round of 16 for the first time. Success continues for the Blue Samurais. They’re coached by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni They feature star players in the top European leagues including Keisuke Honda with AC Milan and Shinji Kagawa with Manchester United. From the first year Zaccheroni assumed the role of Japan’s coach, they won the 2011 Asian Cup. They’ve has mixed results in international play these past two years but have shown their strength trough ties against the Netherlands 2-2 and wins against France 1-0, Belgium 3-2, Ghana 3-1 and South Korea 2-1. They may rank low on FIFA’s chart but they could perform above expectations here.
Now my prediction for the two that will advance. It’s a toughie but I believe it will be Colombia and Greece that will advance.
Now that I’m done all the stadiums that will just hold Group Stage, I’ll now be focusing on stadiums that will host matches in the knockout rounds. One is brand new while one is older and has a reputation. Both will be known for their capacity and features and are both expected to have sufficient post-World Cup use.
-RECIFE : Arena Pernambuco
Year Opened: 2013
World Cup Capacity: 46,154
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, D, G
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (D1 vs. C2)
Pernambuco is a new stadium that was built not just for the World Cup but for last year’s Confederations Cup too. Pernambuco is a new stadium not just built for the World Cup and for Recife to have a new football stadium but also to give a financial boost to a deprived area of the city. Plans for the surrounding area include a university campus, indoor arena, hotel and convention centre, plus commercial, business and residential units and a large entertainment complex with shopping centres, cinemas, bars and restaurants. The biggest feature of the stadium is its intent to be a ‘Green Arena’ relying on solar power and even serving the purpose of being a solar power plant to power 6,000 people when not used for game play and be part of the research and development of solar power in Brazil. Football club Nautico Capibaribe is expected to make this stadium home after the World Cup.
-FORTALEZA: Estadio Castelao
Year Opened: 1973
World Cup Capacity: 67,037
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, D, G
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (B1 vs. A2) & one quarter-final
Castelao is one of the few stadiums at this year’s World Cup to go through two major renovation projects. The first came in 2000 and it was a three-stage project that lasted a year. Then once it was assigned as a hosting venue for the World Cup, it was given a twenty-month reconstruction project starting in March2011: a mere ten years after the first set of renovations were completed. Whatever the situation, Castelao was the first World Cup venue to be completed, back in December 2011. Castelao was one of the venues for last year’s Confederations Cup. Castelao Stadium has always been a venue that has hosted big events in the past. Castelao plans to continue to host major concerts and serve as host venue for Ceara and Fortaleza Sporting Clubs.
And there you have it. My take on Group C and two more stadiums reviewed. Five more groups and six more stadiums to go.
The funny thing about the World Cup group draws is its unpredictability. They try to make things easier by designating seeded teams from all the others to give better parity only to end up with a crazy combination. Group B has a combination crazy enough to have the very first match a rematch of the exact World Cup final from 2010! Also just as surprising is that Group B has four teams that are very talented but it’s not enough to call it the ‘Group Of Death.’ I think there was more than one ‘Group Of Death’ for this World Cup. It’s a wonder why Group B didn’t get that label.
Despite these oddities, Group B is loaded with talented teams and should make some exciting play. Here’s my rundown of the Group B teams:
-Spain (1)- Now seems to be ‘The Reign of Spain.’ Spain has always been known to be full of football talent but the team hardly ever came together at World Cup tournaments of the past, often performing below people’s expectations. This would cause Spain to be known as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’ for a long period of time. This all changed when Vicente del Bosque was appointed coach of Spain’s national team in 2008. Since then, Spain’s magic came about. It all started with winning Euro 2008, then surprising everybody including their compatriots with a win of the 2010 World Cup. Spain’s long-awaited legacy continued with a win at Euro 2012 and becoming the first team ever to successfully defend their European Championship. Spain’s success continued as they played without a loss until the finals of the Confederations Cup where they lost to Brazil 3-0. Spain continues to be brilliant only losing one game since, 1-0 to South Africa. Spain just recently beat Italy 1-0 in a friendly. They appear poised to repeat in Brazil. It’s the next month that will define things.
-Netherlands (15)- While Spain is no longer ‘football’s greatest underachievers,’ the Netherlands have the misfortune of being seen as the greatest team in the world to never have won a World Cup. Three times a finalist, never a winner. Oranje is waiting for that day to prove themselves the best in the world. However it will come a t a challenge. Back during Euro 2012, the Netherlands performed one of the biggest chokes in their history by losing all three of their Group Stage matches. 2013 was a year they really wanted to make up for things and they did well by not losing a game. However failing to win all four of their friendlies since World Cup qualifying including a 2-0 loss to France shows that they might not be ready for this World Cup. This is unfortunate for head coach Louis van Gaal as he would like to leave team Netherlands on a positive note. Nevertheless it could be that Oranje is just ‘playing possum’ and may come alive in Brazil.
-Chile (13)- Chile is another team full of talent that has yet to prove itself in a big way. The team that is affectionately called ‘La Roja’ by its compatriots and supporters have only gone as far as 3rd at the World Cup, and that was back in 1962 when they hosted it. In recent years, Chile has been better at its consistency. They’ve qualified for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups and finished in the Round of 16, the only other two times they’ve made it past the Group Stage. Chile has had a great play record since 2013 in both friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. They’ve shown they can challenge some the best teams in the world, if not defeat them. They beat Uruguay 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier last March, tied Spain 2-2 in a September friendly and even beat England 2-0 in a friendly in November. However they have lost to Brazil 2-1 back in November and lost to Germany 1-0 this March. Most people are predicting Spain and Netherlands to be the two advancers from Group B. There could be a Chilean surprise.
-Australia (59)- The Socceroos were the surprise of the 2006 World Cup. Their 2006 advance to the Round of 16 led them to be transferred from Oceania’s continental federation to Asia’s. However their prowess has taken a bit of a dip. They didn’t advance past the Group stage in 2010 and have struggled in play for the Asian Cup. The 2013 and 2014 play seasons have been unimpressive including 6-0 losses in friendlies against both Brazil and France. In 2014, they’ve had a 4-3 loss to Ecuador and a 1-1 draw to South Africa. 2014 could be a further learning experience for Australia.
So now my prediction for the two advancers from Group B: Spain will definitely advance but it will be tight between Netherlands and Chile in which I feel Chile will be the one moving on.
More stadiums in focus. Like the stadiums focused in my Group A review, these two will also host four matches, all in the Group Stage. And both with host a Group Stage match for Group B. I also want to remind you that in my Stadium Spotlight, I won’t completely compliment the stadiums. In fact I will make aware of some of the glitches, especially since glitches in the construction and/or upgrades of stadiums have made big news leading up to the World Cup. And these two have been two of the ‘bad news bears.’ So without further ado:
-CUIABA: Arena Pantanal
Year Opened: 2014
World Cup Capacity: 42,968
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, F, H
There’s been a lot of concern of the readiness of many of the stadia set to stage the World Cup. Cuiaba is one stadium that’s been causing some of the headaches. One of the headaches happened back in October when a fire caused structural damage, which has since been repaired. In fact Cuiaba needed a second World Cup warm-up match on April 28th to prove its readiness. FIFA was pleased this time around. Nevertheless it didn’t guarantee the stadium was 100% ready. Work returned to the stadium shortly after and on May 9th, a worker was killed when he was electrocuted while working on the installation of a telecommunications network. Work was halted temporarily after his death.
Ready or not, Arena Pantanal will be the stage for four Group Stage games. After the World Cup, the Arena is to be reduced in capacity and to be the home venue for both Cuiaba and Mixto Esporte Club.
-CURITIBA: Arena da Baixaba
Year Opened: 1999
World Cup Capacity: 41,456
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, E, F, H
Not all World Cup stadium problems are about the new stadiums. Existing stadiums have had their own problems too in terms of renovations or upgrades. Curitiba’s Arena da Baixaba is one stadium that had its issues. The stadium had plans for upgrades like extra seats and a retractable roof. The stadium suffered a setback in October 2013 as work was suspended on the orders of a Brazilian labor tribunal due to numerous and serious safety breaches. An extra headache came in January 22 of this year when FIFA’s General Secretary visited the Arena and said Curitiba could be dropped if significant improvements in the renovations didn’t take place within a month. FIFA decided to keep Curitiba the following month. Recently there was some good news about the Arena. Valcke visited the Arena again on May 22nd and this time he praised it for being a ‘top-class’ venue.
The venue is expected to have its seating reduced once again to its usual 30,000 and return to being the host venue for Atletico Paranaense.
So there you have it. Another Group Stage group summary and two more stadiums in the spotlight. More World Cup reviews coming.